This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”
Yes, this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,” declares the Lord. This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.” – Jeremiah 29:4-14 (NIV)
These are famous words of Jeremiah and many know verse 11. But they may not realize the context in which it was written. Jeremiah wrote this in a letter to the captives in Babylon after they had been taken into exile from Jerusalem. After generations of disobedience and apostasy, God delivered judgment. Israel (the northern ten tribes) had already fallen to Assyria. Now Judah (the southern two tribes) fell to Babylon. False prophets in Babylon told the captives that their exile was temporary – they would soon be restored to Judah. Jeremiah, who already had a difficult life as a prophet, now delivers the message that this isn’t just a rest stop.
They are going to be there for a while.
God’s word to the captives in Babylon was twofold. First, they need to get on with life. They aren’t supposed to wait out captivity but to invest in the place they are. In fact, their own well-being is tied to the well-being of Babylon. God is telling them to pray for the peace and prosperity of their enemies.
Second, God’s plan goes beyond their present circumstances. God knows where they are right now, but God also knows where they are going. Paul tells us further in his letter to the Romans, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
Sometimes it’s really hard to see the good of where we are right now. And it’s really tempting to wait it out. But that’s not what God calls us to do. The captives weren’t just supposed to survive in Babylon – God wanted them to thrive. God doesn’t want us to just wait it out either. If we do, there is the temptation to just it wait out for our whole life. But if we do, we would miss out on God’s plans for us – and God’s plans are really too good to give them up just because we sometimes find ourselves in Babylon.
I think we also need to realize that patience is not the same as waiting it out. Even in patience, we are actively obeying God and living the life God gives us. Even when we don’t see the good in where we are, we can remember that our circumstances are always temporary and always under God’s control. What is God calling you to build today? For whom is God calling you to pray peace and well-being? And how is God working these things for your good?